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Hot artificial turf worries force Natick to reschedule graduation

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  May 3, 2012 03:24 PM

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Natick’s new artificial turf field cost $685,000, but it’s a little too hot for the upcoming high school graduation.

Natick school officials have decided to move the time of the high school’s June 3 graduation up two hours because the new field reflects the sun, raising nearby temperatures by as much as 15 degrees and potentially causing participants sitting on the field to be uncomfortable.

“We decided we don’t want anyone getting too hot,” Natick High School Principal Rose Bertucci said. “To have that heat permeate from turf up would be uncomfortable. It might get hot around 12 p.m., but not as hot as 2 p.m.”

Bertucci said she met with Recreation and Parks officials to discuss seating logistics for graduation day, and that they warned her the black tar substance beneath the turf can warm up from 12 to 15 degrees from a person’s feet to about their knees.

“If it’s an 85 degree day, which the possibility exists – we’ve had many graduations where we had 90 degree weather at 2 pm at the height of the sun – your feet would be very uncomfortable,” Bertucci said, adding that she was particularly worried for the elderly, since the field offers no shade nearby.

Bertucci said when groups start practicing in August, they use the field either in the morning or evening – when the temperature is cooler – or the school can spray the sprinklers to cool the field off.

“We can’t do that at graduation because then people will have wet feet with sandals,” Bertucci said.

When groups practice during warm weather, they wear sports uniforms, usually consisting of weather-appropriate clothing like T-shirts and shorts.

“They stay off field during the heat of the day, but we’ve always done that, even before it was turf,” she said.

Most student teams who play on the field use it in the crisp temperatures of fall and spring, or during the cool parts of summer days.

“Many schools in the area now have a turf field,” Bertucci said. “There aren’t any activities in the summer on the field during a hot day.”

She said that the school has not received any phone calls complaining about the graduation time change.

Recreation and Parks Director Jon Marshall said the turf’s warming does not impact groups until the summer, when sporting schedules get sleepy, and that the turf actually benefits groups during the rainy fall and spring seasons.

“It drains a lot better than a typical field, so students can play better in rainy conditions,” Marshall said. “There’s no puddling, so the amount of time for the synthetic field to drain is a lot shorter, which enables groups to get out on the field that much quicker.”

The new turf field was completed last August after breaking ground in November 2010, said Bill Hurley, director of fiscal and management service for Natick Public Schools.

The new track at the site cost $370,000, for a total of just over $1 million, Hurley said – which was well under the estimated $1.6 million cost.

Other miscellaneous work done around the field, including installing new seating stands and bleachers, cost just over another $1 million, Hurley said.

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